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Can we talk Bell and Howell Foton?
Old 02-10-2019   #1
Ambro51
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Can we talk Bell and Howell Foton?

As a buyer waiting for delivery of a Foton, my thirst for information is very strong. Having worn out Google and image searches, Iíve had a few theories on this esoteric camera, and would like to hear from other owner/users of the Foton.
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Old 02-10-2019   #2
Larry H-L
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The head bartender here is a fan, Stephen has info here if you haven’t seen it.

https://www.cameraquest.com/foton.htm

I use a TTH Amotal in LTM, a good lens.
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Old 02-10-2019   #3
Phil_F_NM
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In not a Foton user but they are fascinating. I am, however, a Bell and Howell Filmo 70 series user and I will add my voice to the chorus of Filmo users out there who say it is the most reliable motion picture camera ever made. That reliability trickled into the Foton, obviously.
Have fun with it and post some photos of the rare gem as well as what you make with it.
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foton torpedo
Old 02-10-2019   #4
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foton torpedo

I have a Foton, with flash and original warranty card. The Lens is immaculate. I suggest you run a waste roll of film through it in order to get used to loading and unloading. It is not quite the same as a modern camera. I doubt they ever achieved 5 frames per second. The winding mechanism is robust for a 70 year old camera.They do have a lifetime warranty, but good luck claiming on that. the shutter release collar selects from single to continuous and has a weird lock. There is a wheel to focus the standard lens a la contax/ nikon/ kiev The lens unscrews and can be replaced with the expensive 100mm, and extremely hard to find 252mm. there was no wide angle and when you look at the mechanism you will see why.. rewinding is a chore. There are two varieties of this camera, one with a smooth baseplate and one with a fluted or embossed baseplate. The lens mount is unique. There is no benefit to using T numbers and you just round to the nearest F stop. THere were a couple not selling for years at $1400 on [email protected]#

Last edited by someonenameddavid : 02-10-2019 at 15:19. Reason: factual error
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Old 02-10-2019   #5
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In order to rewind, you have to hold the camera in your left hand with the body upright and the lens facing you. You depress the rewind release which is where every other camera in the western world has its shutter release, and keep it depressed. you raise the rewind wheel which will not otherwise engage, and rotate it clockwise. the rewind feel is non-too-positive so i tend to use a changing bag. The swinging back door is really nice for a camera from 1949, but it cost the equivalent of a down payment on a house back then. I have he original cards to mine, and the surgeon who bought it purchased two of them on the same day. I do not generally turn more than twelve turns, they are half turns really, that is enough to shoot fifteen or so pictures. The shutter is a vertical barn door type and appears spot on. The rangefinder is very similar to the Leica III with a fair separation from the viewfinder. It's a splendid piece of work, if only they had thought to make it an SLR
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Old 02-10-2019   #6
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and would I exchange mine for a mint IIIf RD ST with Summitar?.... probably
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Old 02-10-2019   #7
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Yes Thanks for all That, especially the rewind advice. Well I have the Leicas already and the rarity of the Foton, together with that Splendid lens, really spells Bargain to me. I’ve been recording lens serial numbers and they seem to run from 297000-301999. The modified Ltm and Contax numbers and the foton lens numbers are spaced random through this range. I’m wondering IF Bell and Howell cherry picked the lens stock for lenses that exactly matched in “true” focus to the camera body which was the focusing mechanism. Even Leica Elmar lenses varied and required shimming. Perhaps production was limited by suitable lenses?? Just a thought.
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Old 02-10-2019   #8
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.....as to the Lifetime Warranty, they said the camera was Lubricated for one years use, and required annual visits to your BH dealer. So I imagine the deals off :-). Of course with an annual service I’d imagine a Foton can very well remain in service for 70 years! Mine, coming this week is a ribbed base model. The lens number is high ( though I don’t know if that means anything) (though the actual camera photographed in the manual has a low lens number)
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Old 02-11-2019   #9
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My lens, Cooke Amotal, is 2975XX, the camera is 5521XX. The film gate is polished stainless steel, as is the pressure plate, which has horizontal ribs, so I imagine Slide film wouldnt work too well. the flash sync is a hot shoe, I haven't tried it with an electronic flash. My leather ERC is pretty good and the leatherette is much better than the Zeiss Leatherette on my Super Ikontas. (no Zeiss bumps)
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Old 02-11-2019   #10
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The rangefinder is very similar to the Leica III with a fair separation from the viewfinder. It's a splendid piece of work, if only they had thought to make it an SLR.
Kilfitt made a reflex housing for the Foton. Good luck finding that.
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Old 02-11-2019   #11
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So.....about how many are still out there? Dozens? Hundreds? I did read somewhere only about 500 were actually sold. Of course, Bell and Howell today has no records of their legacy products.
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Old 02-12-2019   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ambro51 View Post
As a buyer waiting for delivery of a Foton, my thirst for information is very strong. Having worn out Google and image searches, I’ve had a few theories on this esoteric camera, and would like to hear from other owner/users of the Foton.
You came to the right forum.

I have 2, as might be expected of someone who uses a Foton quote in their signature (just like w/the Kodak Ektra, when you're fortunate enough to get a rare camera, look for a spare). In addition to the 2" Amotals, I have the 4" Panchrotal & the 8.5" Telekinic (which I can't get to mount properly). The Panchrotal is a great lens like the Amotal. Sometimes I wish someone made a Foton-to-Sony adapter (also an Ektra-to-Sony adapter). You can see why Taylor, Taylor & Hobson became famous for their cinema lenses. Someday maybe I'll get the mount on the Telekinic fixed & see what it can do! The accessory viewfinder looks super-cool & is solidly made like everything else in the system, but is just as squinty (possibly even more so) as the VF on the Foton body.

The manual can be found on eBay (at least they were when I was looking years ago) & the operation of the camera is pretty straightforward (after all, according to the ads, Joan Crawford was a user). My pro tip: after loading the film & closing the back, leave the rewind knob in the extended (rewind) position so that you can see that it's turning in order to confirm that the film is loading onto the takeup spool properly for the 1st 3 shots (like looking at the dots on the takeup knob on an M3 or Barnack Leica).

If you haven't seen it already, here's another good internet page that complements Mr. Gandy's: http://www.vintagephoto.tv/foton.shtml

Some of my photos taken with (& of) my Fotons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/b...llfotonc194850
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Five a Second. Chicago's Bell & Howell Co. (cameras) announced that it would put on sale this fall the world's most expensive still camera. Its "Foton" will take five 35-mm. pictures a second, sell for $700. Bell & Howell, which has found that "families of both low and high incomes now spend over $550" for movie equipment, hopes to sell 20,000 Fotons a year.
--Facts And Figures, Time magazine, Monday, October 4, 1948
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Old 02-12-2019   #13
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Not sure if the normal lenses had to be adjusted for each body as 1 of the advantages of the Contax-type mount was that the lens helical + RF mechanism interface, which can be tricky, was in the body itself.

As may be expected, the highest serial number I have for the 2" Amotal is in the 330*** range for 1 that was converted to LTM, with the 4" Panchrotal being 364*** & the 8.5" Telekinic reaching 382***.

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Yes Thanks for all That, especially the rewind advice. Well I have the Leicas already and the rarity of the Foton, together with that Splendid lens, really spells Bargain to me. I’ve been recording lens serial numbers and they seem to run from 297000-301999. The modified Ltm and Contax numbers and the foton lens numbers are spaced random through this range. I’m wondering IF Bell and Howell cherry picked the lens stock for lenses that exactly matched in “true” focus to the camera body which was the focusing mechanism. Even Leica Elmar lenses varied and required shimming. Perhaps production was limited by suitable lenses?? Just a thought.
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Five a Second. Chicago's Bell & Howell Co. (cameras) announced that it would put on sale this fall the world's most expensive still camera. Its "Foton" will take five 35-mm. pictures a second, sell for $700. Bell & Howell, which has found that "families of both low and high incomes now spend over $550" for movie equipment, hopes to sell 20,000 Fotons a year.
--Facts And Figures, Time magazine, Monday, October 4, 1948
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Old 02-12-2019   #14
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. . . There are two varieties of this camera, one with a smooth baseplate and one with a fluted or embossed baseplate. . . .
This I didn't know. Never seen 1 w/a smooth baseplate.
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Five a Second. Chicago's Bell & Howell Co. (cameras) announced that it would put on sale this fall the world's most expensive still camera. Its "Foton" will take five 35-mm. pictures a second, sell for $700. Bell & Howell, which has found that "families of both low and high incomes now spend over $550" for movie equipment, hopes to sell 20,000 Fotons a year.
--Facts And Figures, Time magazine, Monday, October 4, 1948
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Old 02-12-2019   #15
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And the thing appears to in mid ocean limbo..... ugh. The wait!!!
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Old 02-12-2019   #16
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The last great American made film camera? ROF is where it's at
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Old 02-13-2019   #17
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Ugh! Another day waiting. USPS tracking is giving no indication it’s in the USA only that it left the UK on the 9th. Does it take 5 days to cross the Atlantic? I know I know ~~~~Good Things come to those who wait.
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Can we talk Bell and Howell Foton?
Old 02-13-2019   #18
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Can we talk Bell and Howell Foton?

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Originally Posted by Ambro51 View Post
Ugh! Another day waiting. USPS tracking is giving no indication it’s in the USA only that it left the UK on the 9th. Does it take 5 days to cross the Atlantic? I know I know ~~~~Good Things come to those who wait.
Check the Royal Post tracking site.
Often the Country of Origin postal site will give more details than that of the receiving country.

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Old 02-17-2019   #19
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YES! Mrs. Howell arrived yesterday. What an Elegant Lady! Defiantly NOT your average camera! Built at a level I can only describe as Jewelry Quality the cameras Cine film ancestry is immediately evident in its Brown covering and oval shape. The winding key screams 16mm movie camera. My My My...... it’s Bigger than you’d think, it compares size wise to a Nikon RF , taller a bit, but the oval shape makes getting a good grip difficult. Also the bottom plate is Sharp edged, right where you hold it. The shutter button is in front, I find my third finger is better positioned to operate it. It’s nice to have a shutter lock device. Viewfinder looks leicalike, it’s fine. Rangefinder view lens no kidding is 1.2 mm in size, though it’s ez to the eye where it’s located. The patch is larger than a Leica’s and orange in color. With a good vertical feature it works well. The Shutter! We’ve all had those whisper quiet cameras you weeent even sure it fired? Not so with the Foton— KA ZINK! Very satisfying sound you really know it’s fired! The rewind knob spins as it fires...careful not to have a hand or hat there. Super nice feature is the standard (well made) case allows the top to unsnap giving you a perfect half case. The rapid fire feature is amazing in use, it reminded me of the first time I shot an Uzi, you feel the camera working in your hands. ~~~~~So Far, all good. 21 shots taken on a 36 roll of Eastman XX, I hope to finish off today and get it souped to see what Mrs. Howell gives me. Maybe I’ll figure out how to post images here...
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Old 02-18-2019   #20
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Old 02-18-2019   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Contarama View Post
The last great American made film camera? ROF is where it's at
Surely the Simmons Omega was later, as was the Graflex XL, although I dont know where the bodies were made, lenses were German. Some of the very last Miranda scientific slrs were made (I.e. Assembled) in the USA.www
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Old 02-20-2019   #22
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.....I think the bodies were made in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. ;-/ Borh are hideous monstrosities.
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Old 02-20-2019   #23
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And yes as mentioned, this first variety has a smooth base. I’ve read that on an early production model the two patent numbers are found,, possibly on the baseplate as my second version with ribbedcbase has no patent numbers. The patents go back much further than the appearance of the foton. One is from 1935, the second filed in 1938 and granted in 1940. Bell and Howell stated it had a ten year development program and they spent one million dollars on bringing the camera to the public. There are over five hundred parts in the camera ! Life magazine was a major buyer, as were many sports photographers. second version serial number 7211XX stamped under wind key
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